2 Timothy 3:1 - 4:8
The structure of this passage is three couplets about the effects of apostasy contrasted with (“but you;” “you, however”) what it looks like to respond effectively to this situation.
3:1-9 - Extreme sensuality and corrupt knowledge that characterize the “last days”--especially because of false teachers.
3:10-12 - Timothy has chosen the right mentor (Paul), whose life was characterized by sound teaching, godly character, perseverance through suffering, and God’s protection(?).
3:13 - False teachers and those who listen to them will spiral down into deeper and deeper deception.
3:14-4:2 - Timothy must continue in God’s Word (the truth), both by staying in it for himself and by communicating it to others.
4:3,4 - Many people within the church will flake out, following false teachers who justify their lusts.
4:5-8 - Timothy must deny himself and fulfill his ministry (as Paul has), knowing there will be great reward when Jesus returns.
2 Timothy 3:1 - 12
3:1-9 - Life will be difficult between the Comings of Jesus (“the last days”) because of the prevalence of deception and profound selfishness.
- What period does “the last days” cover? Because Paul uses both future (3:2) and present (3:5-8) tenses, it refers to the entire period between Jesus’ Comings.
- Paul echoes Jesus’ warning (Matt. 24:4-12) that false teachers will multiply during this entire time, and their influence will lead to persecution of true Christians and a more selfish society.
- Notice the emphasis on extreme sensuality (3:1-4), empty spirituality (3:5-7), and mental depravity (3:8). Does this look familiar?
3:10-12 - In such a spiritually and morally sick and hostile environment, it is crucial that we choose the right mentors (as Timothy did in Paul).
- It helps so much to have leaders/mentors that model lives that are serious about truth, committed to a lifestyle of sacrificial love, and willingness to suffer for Christ.
- Take advantage of these people! Even if they can’t formally disciple you, you can profit much from them by watching them, asking questions and advice, read their books, listen to their teachings, etc.
2 Timothy 3:13 - 4:2
3:13 - False teachers and evil people will spiral downward into deeper and deeper deception.
Notice that they both deceive others and that they get deceived. The penalty of rejecting the truth (and influencing others to do the same) is that we get more deceived ourselves. Why is this? Other passages that teach this?
3:14-4:2 - If we want to avoid this, we stay focused on God’s Word (the truth).
- We must continue in the Word (3:14-17). Why? Because it has the power to save you (3:15 - justification and sanctification). It is not enough to have been grounded in the Word. We must continue in the Word if we want to be sanctified (Jn. 17:17). Only if we are regularly in the Word do we get the kind of personal instruction, reproof, correction and training that we need day by day. Because it has the ability to train you for effective ministry (3:16,17). Only by staying immersed in the Word do we have fresh revelation and spiritual health and sharpness to give to others. Are you continuing in the Word?
- We must make the Word central in our communication to others (4:1,2). 4:2 emphasizes three ways Christian leaders should do this:
- “Preach the Word.” This refers to teaching the Bible to our assembled flocks. We must make God’s Word central in our ministries (both outreach and discipleship) because it is God’s Word alone that has the power to change lives. Although they are important, no amount of empathy or good structures or friendship can substitute for solid biblical teaching. We have to keep feeding the sheep a solid diet of biblical truth.
- “Be ready in season and out of season.” Epistethi normally means to come near, to be at hand. Here, it means to be ready (NASB), to be prepared (NIV), to be persistent (NLT). Following the command to preach the Word, it is probably emphasizing the importance looking for any unexpected opportunity to communicate the Word. There are times when we know that we are scheduled to teach the Word, but what about the unexpected opportunities that God sovereignly grants to share what he says with others? Are we praying for them, expecting them, looking for them--and then taking advantage of them? Sometimes we see immediate results; other times we see no immediate results (but that may come later).
- “Reprove, rebuke, exhort with great patience and instruction.” Christian leaders can’t simply teach God’s Word to groups. We must also apply God’s Word to individuals in very concrete and specific ways. Most American evangelical pastors neglect this. They say, “My job is to preach the Word.” But Paul says it is also our responsibility to reprove (correct assuming ignorance), rebuke (more forcefully correct because they know better) and exhort (encourage, urge on)! Many adult home group leaders are deficient here--avoiding this crucial personal application of the Word. Why do we tend to be soft on this?
EXCURSIS: 4:1 is one of several times Paul charges Timothy in God’s presence (cf. 1 Tim. 5:21; 6:13; 2 Tim. 2:14). Why does he use this phrase? It is not just a rhetorical way of saying “I’m really serious about this”--although it does communicate this. It is emphasizing the vertical aspect of our work--that we work always in God’s presence, that the angels are watching and affected by what we do, and that Jesus will evaluate our service when he returns. Paul is saying “You are part of a heavenly battle with cosmic stakes. Jesus and others have gone before you and given their lives for God’s plan--and you are privileged to be part of that great company. Jesus is coming back to evaluate the quality of your service. This issue is a key part of your service. Do it as unto the Lord! Serve him! Please him!” This is “the fear of God,” and it is the great antidote to fearing people and/or cynicism about ministry.
2 Timothy 4:3-8
4:3,4 - Be forewarned that many people within the church will flake out and follow apostate teaching and ideology--because it provides them with a justification to gratify their selfish lusts. We can’t prevent this, but we are responsible to fight against it by teaching and applying the Word to the flock (4:2).
4:5-8 - But we are to live soberly and deny ourselves in order to fulfill the ministries to which God has called us (see also Col. 4:17). For encouragement, look to people who have gone before us (like Paul), and realize that there will be great reward for faithfulness when Jesus returns.
Not many Christian workers finish well! It requires an eternal perspective--deep convictions about the privilege and responsibility of our calling, and about the BEMA judgment and reward. See Wesley’s reply to one half his age who asked why he endured so much hardship: “If I did not believe in eternity, I would not live this vagabond life.”